China: The Next Superconsumer?

by Jay Kimball on 27 June 2010

There’s a good article in the Guardian that builds on data I presented last week in the article The Real Population Problem. One of the my charts shows the growing per capita income and consumptions patterns in China. As the population has grown, per capita income and consumption have grown. Using GapMinder’s Trendalyzer with energy consumption data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2010 and income data from the IMF, we can see some powerful trends unfolding (N.B. data presented for 1965 through 2008, 1 year steps, circle area proportional to population size, energy use in tonnes of oil equivalent):

Regional Energy Consumption and Income Trends

As income rises so does consumption – of commodities like energy, as well as retail goods.

Income has flattened in the US and Europe, and people are spending less and saving more.  For global retailers, China’s growing per capita income is attracting businesses that cater to the “consumer.”

Highlights of the Guardian article:

  • The fastest-growing consumer class in China are single women. They have high levels of disposable income and a craving for designer labels.
  • State planners forecast that half the population will rise to the “middle class” by 2020.
  • As China’s consumer population rises, 4.5 more earths will be required to feed the need.
  • Shanghai, the second busiest port in the world, is the beachhead for retail giants like Kentucky Fried Chicken (2,000 outlets in china), McDonald’s, Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel, Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Tesco and Ito Yokado.
  • Mattel, the world’s biggest toy company, marked the Barbie doll’s 50th birthday by opening the world’s largest Barbie emporium.
  • China is now seeing a surge in obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Obese children used to be rare in China; now nearly 15% of the population is overweight.
  • To feed its growing livestock, China imports huge quantities of soya, much of it from Brazil, which has resulted in accelerated clearance of Amazonian forest and Cerrado savanna
  • In Shanghai, the average carbon dioxide emissions of its residents have already overtaken those in Tokyo, New York and London.

The Guardian article is an edited extract from When A Billion Chinese Jump by Jonathan Watts.

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